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Yugoslavia: Ex-U.S. Secretary Of State Critical Of Clinton's Balkan Policies

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker (1989-92) says he doubts there will ever be a peaceful multi-ethnic society in Bosnia or in Kosovo. In an interview with RFE/RL, Baker -- a Republican -- is critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Balkans since early 1993, when the Democratic Party took over the Administration in Washington.

Prague, 3 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, is critical of the Balkan policies pursued by Bill Clinton's Democratic presidency in the last eight years.

As secretary of state for president George Bush from 1989 to 1992, Baker was witness to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of Yugoslavia's disintegration. Baker also served as White House chief of chief of staff for both Bush and president Ronald Reagan.

In an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service this week, Baker said Clinton's handling of crises in the former Yugoslavia has weakened the NATO alliance, damaged Washington's relations with Russia and China, and bogged down U.S. troops indefinitely in Kosovo and Bosnia.

"I'm not sure that you'll ever get a multi-ethnic society peacefully established either in Bosnia or in Kosovo. [Bosnia] is not a normal country and there's not a stable peace. We will be there for a very, very long time. What is the exit strategy? President Clinton told us we would be out of Bosnia by Christmas 1997, and we're still there. We will be in Kosovo for a very, very long time. You can argue that what we did [in Kosovo] was morally the right thing to do. It w-a-s the right thing to do. But there is no over-riding national interest, as far as America is concerned, with our intervention there."

Baker said he remains uncertain about how to resolve ethnic tensions in Kosovo and Bosnia. But he suggested that the answer in Kosovo m-a-y be to partition the province into Serb- and ethnic-Albanian controlled sectors:

"I don't know what the solution will be. The people in the region have been fighting each other for many, many, many hundreds of years. It may be that partition is the only solution. But we're certainly not successful in establishing multi-ethnic democracies."

Baker is particularly critical of the impact that intervention in Kosovo has had on U.S. foreign relations and upon the NATO alliance:

"I think that Kosovo has cost America tremendously in our relationships with other countries around the world. On balance, it has been a negative instead of a positive in the United States' relationships with other countries -- Russia, China, India. And our use of force in Kosovo with no international legal authority to bomb downtown Belgrade is resented and feared by many countries around the world. I think there were many wrong assessments involved in the Kosovo operation, not the least of which was taking the most successful security alliance in history, the NATO alliance as a defensive alliance, turning it into an offensive alliance and thereby weakening it significantly. I do not see NATO doing again very soon what it did in Kosovo."

Nevertheless, Baker said he thinks that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would be wrong to think that NATO will sit back idly if Serbian forces take steps against Milosevic's political rivals in Montenegro, the smaller of the two republics -- with Serbia -- that constitute the rump Yugoslavia. He said intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia show that Western warnings to Milosevic on Montenegro are serious threats.

"I think that [Milosevic] would ignore those warnings at his peril because the decision has been made, rightly or wrongly, to involve U.S. forces in the Balkans. And therefore, having made that decision in Bosnia and Kosovo -- not withstanding the lack of satisfactory results -- it would be easier to become involved were [Milosevic] to move against Montenegro. So I think the warnings are real."

(The interview was conducted by Nikola Gurovic of the South Slav Service)